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Vol 1, Issue 4                               FALL 2002

Index ||| Welcome ||| Mailbag ||| About the Editors ||| Collecting News ||| Profile of a Collector ||| Profile of an Artist ||| Doll in the Spotlight! ||| Doll Care Basics ||| Resources ||| FAQ ||| Closing Words

by Debbie Garrett

Since the 1970s, many doll companies, artists and manufacturers have chosen popular afrocentric names for their African American dolls.  While most of the dolls' names discussed in this article have African origins, many have other origins.  Even so, the original version of these names or a variation thereof is frequently used by African Americans in actual child naming.  This article highlights a selection of dolls (all but one being from my personal collection) whose "afrocentric" names were influenced by those of actual African-American children or dark skinned children from other countries. I have researched each name and have included each name's origin and its meaning, if that information was available.  

Amber (Arabic) means jewel or yellow/brown in color. Representing a 6-year-old, Jamaican child of the 1970s, Amber, the doll, was created in the year 2000 by Annette Himstedt. Amber is one of Ms. Himstedt's 30-inch vinyl creations.

Ayoka (African) means one who causes joy. Ayoka is a 27-inch doll, molded in vinyl after the likeness of a real African child by Annette Himstedt, 1989/1990. Ayoka is from the "Barefoot Children" doll series.


Ebony (Latin) means black. This 23-inch, vinyl doll's artist is Hildegard Gunzel. Ebony is from 1991. Gunzel included in the Ebony family of dolls, her little sister Blanca and little brother Pablo (not pictured). Their names have Latin origins as well. While Blanca and Pablo are not commonly used names in the African-American culture, the name, Ebony, is commonly used.









In Gambia, West Africa, Fatou is short for Fatima. It is also sometimes spelled Fatimah or Fateema. Fateema was the favorite daughter of the Prophet Muhammed. Fateema is one of four perfect women mentioned in the Koran. Fatou, the doll, is another Annette Himstedt creation, molded in vinyl after the likeness of a 9-year-old girl from Senegal (West Africa). This version was made for the US market in 1987 and was the winner of the 1987 Dolls of Excellence award. Fatou stands 26 inches and is also from the "Barefoot Children" doll series. 

Pemba and Sanga (African) are both districts (regions) in Mozambique, Africa.  Himstedt's doll,  Pemba, represents a boy from Tennessee. Sculpted in vinyl, he stands 22-inches tall. Pemba was marketed with his sister, Sanga, in 1992/1993. Sanga is also vinyl, 22-inches tall, and represents a young black girl from Tennessee.  Annette Himstedt also created a Kenyan version of Pemba and Sanga. Pemba and Sanga are from the Annette Himstedt Puppen Kinder "Summer Dreams" collection.


Hadiza is of Nigerian origin. Its meaning is quite elusive. A closely related name, Hadiya, is used in both the Arabic and Swahili languages and means guide to righteousness; a gift. Hadiza, the doll, was sculpted by doll artist, Judith Turner, in 1994 after the likeness of a child from Niger, Africa. The child, at the time, was living in America in 1992 as an indentured servant! This 23-inch, American-made doll wears afrocentric attire, which includes multiple copper necklaces, bracelets and anklets. Hadiza's certificate of authenticity outlines the real little girl's sad story which does come to a happy ending.  Purportedly, a portion from the sale of every "Hadiza" doll was donated to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. 







Jamaica (named for the island) is a 25-inch porcelain doll by Kelly RuBert, daughter of Donna RuBert. This doll possibly represents a person of mixed African and European ancestry based on her light, cream-colored complexion and her royal blue eyes. 






Jamaica (another doll named for the island) is a 29-inch, limited edition of 250, vinyl doll by Peggy Dey for Heavenly Treasures, 1997.  I was made aware of Jamaica by a fellow doll collector who appeared to have such fun rewigging and redressing this delightful doll.  After finding one for less than half the cost of the doll's original retail, I immediately swooped her up.  While I have not rewigged or redressed my doll, the possibility that I can eventually do this looms in my mind. Currently, I am enjoying her as she is, dressed in her a green and white gingham checked, nautical dress with matching hat, white lace-trimmed ankle socks and black patent-leather shoes.  Her chunky body and chunky legs are also an added plus.  Jamaica's body reminds me of my daughter's at age 2.







Jamia (Scottish) is the "pet" name form of James,  used as a woman's name.  A closely related name used in the Arabic and Swahili languages is Jamila, which means beautiful. The name, Jamia, is  commonly used in child-naming by African Americans. The 22-inch, porcelain doll, Jamia, (far right) was purchased from QVC in approximately 1995.  It is from their exclusive Camelot line. 

Pictured with Jamia is  Shaka (Zulu), which was the name of the Zulu tribal leader. Shaka shaped an amalgamation of tribes into the great Zulu nation in the early 19th century. This 18-inch, porcelain female doll by Seymour Mann bears the powerful name Shaka.  The doll  was purchased from the Home Shopping Network (HSN) in 1993, sight unseen.  Based on its powerful name, I assumed it would be a must have for  my collection.  




Katiba (probably Kenyan in origin, unknown meaning) is a vinyl sculpt (using a real-life model) in 1992 by doll artist, Marion Forek-Schmahl. Katiba's brother, Wale, is missing from my collection. Both Katiba and Wale were imited to 500 for Sigikid's 1993 line.

Katiba has an individually styled, human hair wig that is accented by flat wooden adornments. Real leather sandals cover her feet. Her clothing is quite afrocentric.

Paper dolls were also created for Katiba and Wale. These originally appeared in the April/May 1994 issue of Dolls the Magazine. Printable copies are currently available online. (Please see our Resource page for the Katiba and Wale paper doll link.)







Kayla (Greek) means pure. Kayla,
the doll, is 26 inches tall
and has bent baby legs. She
also has a wig that was often
advertised in doll magazines
(using Kayla as the model)
in the year of her debut.
This was a new, welcomed
African-American face mold
offered by FayZah Spanos in 1995.  








Keisha (Swahili) means favorite. Magic Attic Keisha made her debut in 1995 via the Georgetown Doll Company, who later sold the rights to the Magic Attic line to L.L. Knickerbocher in 1996. Keisha and the other vinyl dolls in the MA line were sculpted by well-known doll artist and fashion designer, Robert Tonner. The Magic Attic dolls were to be Georgetown's answer to the Pleasant Company's American girl. Keisha and the other dolls in the MA line have available several accessories and outfits that can be purchased at an additional cost to the collector or parent. The Keisa in this article has had her original one-ponytail-on-top-and-lower-hair-hanging-loose hairstyle restyled to represent a hairstyle worn by little girls of the 60s-80s. White barrettes accent the ends of her three braids.





Shaila  (English) is the American variation of Shelia.  Shaila  is a 22-inch, vinyl baby sculpted by Val Shelton in 1998.  Shaila (which rhymes with Kayla and probably would have been spelled differently by an African American parent (Shayla) has a cornrowed wig with white beads that accent the ends of her braids.  She has the typical Val Shelton face mold and is one of Ms. Shelton's first vinyl creations.  Prior to working in vinyl, Ms. Shelton created porcelain dolls, to which I believe she became allergic, which caused her to resort to working in other media.









Shani, which means "marvelous" in Swahili and Her Friends was a line of dolls produced by Mattel from 1991-1993. Her boyfriend, Jamal's name means "handsome" in the Arabic language. Her friend, Asha's name means "life" and it also has an African origin. The origin and meaning of Shani's friend, Nichelle's name could not be found. However, Nichelle is a name that would most probably be used in the African-American baby-naming process. These 11-1/2-inch fashion dolls comprise the 1993 Shani Soul Train doll series. They wear colorful, afrocentric clothing quite suitable for dancing.


The name, Shawana, (Swahili), means "grace." The 26-inch, vinyl doll, Shawana, (left) was sculpted by Bettina Feigenspan-Hirsch in 2000 for Zapf in a limited edition of only 850 dolls. Shawana has multiple human-hair braids and very realistic facial features.  I was somewhat disappointed after receiving the doll because of her quite thin body.  I had assumed that being 26 inches tall that she would have the body habitus of a Himstedt.  I have since grown accustomed to her thinness.

The origin of the name Shoshanna is Hebrew and means lily. While not African in origin, the name, Shoshanna, is a variation of names used for African-American children, e.g. Shashawna and Shanna. The doll, Shoshanna, (above right) was sculpted by Bruno Rossellini for the Great American Doll Company in the mid 1990s. The doll's actual name is Shoshanna II A Kwanzaa Celebration Child -- Chairman's Special Edition. This doll stands 33 inches and is number 18 of 50 dolls worldwide. (Shoshanna I, the first doll, had a braided wig and was a limited edition of 1000 dolls). Shoshanna II wears a colorful print dress that contains images of African-American people wearing afrocentric attire. She holds a Kwanza gift box and her 12-inch, mink-like stuffed bear.


Tamara (Hebrew) means palm tree. This 21-inch, porcelain doll was sculpted by Linda Steele and sold through HSN in approximately 1992.  Linda Steele has since reduced the size of the dolls that she mass produces.  Most average between 13 and 14 inches tall.  

Kwasi  (African) is a variant of Kwesi, which means born on Sunday. The 18-inch, porcelain doll Kwasi, pictured with Tamara, represents a black gypsy, created by William Tung for HSN.






Tasha (Greek) is short for Natasha, and means born on Christmas. This doll is from the 2001 Butterfly Ring, 16-inch, vinyl fashion doll family by Spellbound Dolls. Each Butterfly Ring doll has its own unique story, full of life's challenges.

Tasha (a name commonly used in the African-American community) was raised in the Bronx by her mother who migrated from the South at age 17. In order to support Tasha and her siblings, Tasha's mother scrubbed floors at a hospital and attended night sschool to become an eventual nurse. Throughout her life, Tasha had several "stepfathers" who came and went.  However, she beat the odds of her meager beginnings.

Tasha was able to attend high school in Manhattan where she met the other members of the Butterfly Ring, of which she became an eventual member. While each young girl represented a different ethnicity, all had experienced their share of life's challenges, which enabled them to form a close bond.

Tasha eventually overcame her life challenges. She graduated from college with a degree in sports medicine and became a personal trainer. Today she aspires to open a health spa.  


Zuri (Baby Zuri), Malaika, and Tamu (Swahili).  Zuri means beautiful; Malaika means Angel; and Tamu means Sweet.  These dolls were all created and marketed by Shindana Toys, Inc. in the late 1960s through the 1970s.    Malaika's exclusive dashiki and the other fashions worn by various versions of the doll were created  by fashion designer Aajib.  Malaika's rooted hair was also styled in an authentic afro style.  Shindana Toys, Inc., a Division of Operation Bootstrap certainly paved the road to the creation of black dolls with true-to-life facial features as well as authentic costumes and meaningful, afrocentric names.


The 27 dolls discussed in this article are certainly not the only bearers of afrocentric names.  Others have been made and countless others will certainly be offered in the future. We hope that those who read this article will become as enlightened as its author with reference to the origins and meanings of afrocentric names.